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LOCATION

MARRAKECH

A city of irrigated gardens and sun-baked walls the colour of terracotta, the Medina of Marrakech was founded nearly a thousand years ago as an oasis in the arid Haouz plain.  The city today is an exotic blend of Arab, Berber and sub-Saharan influences. 

The Kasbah was founded by Yacoub el-Mansour who was caliph from 1184 to 1199.  From his capital Marrakech he ruled over an empire that extended from the Sahara to Spain and from the Atlantic seaboard to the borders of Egypt.  To create the Kasbah Yacoub el-Mansour built palaces, administrative buildings and army barracks in the south west of the city and enclosed them with defensive walls.  The Kasbah was an imperial citadel. The Bab Agnaou and the Kasbah Mosque (the Moulay Yazid Mosque) in the Kasbah are from Yacoub el-Mansour's time.

      

the minaret of the Kasbah Mosque and the Giralda

The minaret of the Kasbah Mosque has been heavily restored but the original concept of its decoration has been retained.  Arches supporting arches were almost certainly inspired by the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain.  They were also used to great effect in the Giralda, the former minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville that was converted into a cathedral after the Christian conquest of the city.  The Giralda was also built by Yacoub el-Mansour as one of his many ambitious projects including the completion of the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

the minaret of the Koutoubia

ceramic marquetry at the top of the Kasbah minaret (left) and the Koutoubia minaret (right)

The use of ceramic marquetry in the decoration of the minaret of the Kasbah Mosque was an innovation imported from Spain and was also employed in the minaret of the Koutoubia.  The proportions of the Moulay Yazid minaret were based on the classic prototype of the Great Mosque of Karouan in Tunisia, then part of Yacoub el-Mansour's empire.  The minaret of the Kasbah mosque became the principal model for later mosques in the city

the Bab Agnaou, the Imperial entrance to the Kasbah, is not only the most beautiful and impressive city gate in Marrakech but also represents one of the highest achievements of Islamic art

There are no surviving traces of the palaces built by Yacoub el-Mansour in the Kasbah.  A later Kasbah palace, the sixteenth century Badi, reflects the power and fabulous wealth of the Saadian Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, a statesman whose influence in the late sixteenth century extended from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. The Badi Palace at the time it was built was the envy of Yacoub el-Mansour's contemporaries.  The inauguration of the palace in 1593  was attended by all the major mediterranean powers including a representative of the Spanish King Phillip II and an envoy of the Ottomon Caliph Murad III.  What remains of the building now is a shell as in 1684 it was stripped of its incomparably beautiful and rich decoration by the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismael, an ancestor of Mohamed VI the present King of Morocco.  Moulay Ismael was intent on effacing the memory of his predecessors the Sultans of the Saadian family.  He did refrain from destroying the exquisite cemetry that Ahmed el-Mansour had created as a Saadian dynastic burial place.  Instead he hid the cemetry from view by walling up the street entrance to the tombs; it could only be entered through an obscure door in the interior of the Kasbah Mosque to which the cemetry was attached.  The ploy succeeded to the extent that the Saadian Tombs were almost entirely forgotten until 1917 when their existence was discovered with the aid of early aerial photos.  The reopening of the Saadian Tombs made a sensation.

In 1985 Marrakech was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO: the Kasbah as an entity and individually the Agdal Gardens, the Bab Agnaou, the Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs were singled out as representing  'Outstanding  Universal Value'.

 

The Adgal Gardens were created around the middle of the twelfth century by the Caliph Abd el-Mumin, the grandfather of  Yacoub el-Mansour.

One of the two irrigation pools of the Agdal Gardens; snow on the peaks of the High Atlas melts in the spring  feeding the Ouirika River, the source of water for the irrigation pools

the Agdal Gardens photographed from the roof terrace of Maison Mnabha

One of the attractions of Marrakech is the vitality of its street life and the city is best appreciated on foot.  An interesting short walk through the atmospheric back streets from Maison Mnabha to the Badi Palace takes you through the Souk Ksibt Nhass, our local market.  Vestiges of the Badi Palace buildings that originally stretched from the Kasbah Mosque to the border of the Mellah (the historical Jewish quarter) intersect the route.

a vestige of the Badi Palace and an external wall of the Badi

The Mellah was planned by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah in the 1550s and probably completed in the early 1560s in order to contain the substantial Jewish population of the city within a defined and separate area.  It has just been renovated and is a good place to shop for spices.  The Place des Ferblantiers (square of the tinsmiths) adjoining the Badi Palace and Mellah is where we get the patinated lamps made for Maison Mnabha.

 

a lamp at the entrance of Maison Mnabha and the Place des Ferblantiers where it was made

The area between the Mellah and nearby Bahia Palace is where to buy silver jewelry.

The Rue de la Kasbah has been the main thoroughfare of the Kasbah since the twelfth century.  Starting next to the Bab Agnaou it has many narrow side streets branching from it. 

the dome of the hamman (public baths) in Derb Hammam, a side street near the Kasbah Mosque

The Kasbah Mosque and the Saadian Tombs are both on the Rue de la Kasbah. Near the end of the Rue de la Kasbah Derb Mnabha, a small lane off the main street, leads to Maison Mnabha. 

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It's a straighforward walk from Maison Mnabha down the Rue de la Kasbah and on to the Jmaa el Fnaa, the celebrated central square of the medina.

THE ENVIRONS OF MARRAKECH

The landscapes of the south of Morocco are amazingly diverse and stunningly beautiful.

The High Atlas mountain range, which lies between Marrakech and the Sahara, is only about 37 miles south of the Kasbah. It takes less than two hours by road to reach the base of the Djebel Toubkal, at over 13000 feet the highest mountain in North Africa.  The mountain road that starts outside the walls of the Kasbah of Marrakech finishes at the village of Setti Fatma in the Ourika, a valley cut deep into the High Atlas by the Ourika River.          

Marrakech is just over a hundred miles inland from the Atlantic coast: it generally takes little more than two hours by road to reach the fishing port of Essaouira. 

It takes around four hours to cross the Atlas Mountains by road but considerably longer to get to the Saharan Dunes.

 

 

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